breaking news

Congress slides into a government shutdown

How the Confederates might actually come off Stone Mountain


With Confederate monuments coming down across the country and debate raging over whether they should be removed, attention has turned once again to the largest Confederate monument of them all, Stone Mountain.

This week, a gubernatorial candidate became the latest to call for removal of the massive high-relief sculpture from the side of the mountain. A state law makes it

unlikely the sculpture will ever come down. Protests against removal would be epic. Yet, removing it is not impossible.

What would it take to erase it from the face of a mountain?

» PHOTOS: Confederate memorials in metro Atlanta

» TORPY AT LARGE: Confederate monuments tell an incomplete tale

“You could pack it full of dynamite and blow it all the way to Lawrenceville, but you don’t want to create such a hazard,” said Ben Bentkowski, president of the Atlanta Geological Society. “Removing a gigantic sculpture off the side of a mountain is not a trivial undertaking.”

We asked Bentkowski and other geologists to leave aside political considerations and just think about the logistics of erasing the giant sculpture. They all agreed that removing it is an achievable, if costly, engineering feat.

Here’s how it might go. And it does not involve a giant sandblaster.

First, there would be the quiet, tedious work: months, if not years of environmental impact and engineering feasibility studies, Bentkowski said. The economic impact on the surrounding theme park and attractions would have to be considered as well, since those would probably have to close during the demolition. 

Contractors would have to bid for the work, exposing themselves to dangerous backlash. Companies that bid to remove Confederate statuary in New Orleans this year received death threats causing some to back out of consideration. The crews who did the work wore flak vests, helmets and masks.

» RELATED: Exactly how big is the granite carving on the side of Stone Mountain?

Once a team was put in place, how would they move forward?

There’s the non-explosive option, said Derric Iles, the state geologist for South Dakota, home to Mt. Rushmore, which was carved by the first of three sculptors who worked on Stone Mountain. Air chisels and air hammers could be used, but only if “you have all the time in the world,” Iles said.

And money. So that brings it back to explosives.

» RELATED: DeKalb’s CEO on the complicated legacy of Stone Mountain

» RELATED: Abrams calls for removal of Confederate faces off Stone Mountain

If you’ve ever descended into the bowels of the Peachtree Center MARTA Station, you’ve seen what targeted explosives can create; tunnels big enough for a train to run through. The stone walls bear the scarring from explosives and the holes bored to put them in place. That’s what would happen at Stone Mountain.

Work stations would be built on top of the mountain, and scaffolding to support the workers, would be operating hundreds of feet up. 

Project managers would have to decide whether they want to blow the whole sculpture or preserve parts of it for some other use. Stone Mountain rock has been used for foundations, from metro Atlanta bungalows to the Lincoln Memorial to parts of the Panama Canal.

» RELATED: Meeting the man who carved Stone Mountain

The workers would drill holes into the rock that would hold the explosive charges. It wouldn’t happen quickly. Drilling is complicated, and doing it safely could take six months to a year, Bentkowski said. At least one worker fell to his death during the multi-decade span it took to create the relief there today.

With the holes in place, bit by bit, the image would be blasted away, but the fallen debris would create an excavation site. The rubble would have to carted away at every stage, adding time and expense.

It wouldn’t be the only time explosives have been used on the mountain. The original version of the memorial begun by Gutzon Borglum, in the 1920s, only got as far as the sculpting of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s head. Borglum didn’t complete the project and went out west to blast away rock that became Mt. Rushmore. But the work he left behind on Stone Mountain was removed with dynamite by the second sculptor, Augustus Lukeman. Lukeman then chiseled a new vision, one that became the three horsemen: Lee, Jefferson Davis and Stonewall Jackson.

The whole deconstruction process could take a year or more, and a gaping, three-acre hole would be left. What would go in its place?

“Whatever you could find the funding and social will for,” said Bentkowksi.

» RELATED: Andrew Young opposes fight over Confederate statues

» RELATED: There are hundreds of Confederate monuments, no just in the South

Explosives aren’t the only option. The relief could be covered, said Robert Hatcher, distinguished scientist in geology at the University of Tennessee. The figures would be smoothed down, then the area filled with concrete.

“It wouldn’t be very pretty,” Hatcher said. “It would deface the mountain. I guess you could paint a mural over it.”

It might not be as disruptive and expensive as mining away the sculpture, he said, but it would still take millions of dollars in taxpayer money to complete.

Whatever happens to the contentious memorial, one thing is certain, Bentkowski said.

“It’s a really big piece of rock that’s been there hundreds of millions of years, and once we humans get done messing with it, it’ll be there hundreds of millions of more years,” he said.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

At Issue: Should all schools offer distance learning during snow days?
At Issue: Should all schools offer distance learning during snow days?

As children many of us recall watching the evening news or listening to the morning weather radio reports to find out if the white flakes wafting from the sky would cause officials to close school for the day. One or two days were a dream, but an entire week brought about severe cabin fever from being away from structure and near-amnesia when we return...
Sunday Conversation with D. Gordon Draves
Sunday Conversation with D. Gordon Draves

A scare with traffic kept D. Gordon Draves off of his bicycle for 25 years. Learning about his ancestors got him back on. For the past three summers, the 71-year-old East Point resident has embarked on ambitious bike trips in the hopes of learning about his family’s history. Even places that didn’t turn up much in the way of documentation...
Community Voices: Bringing the arts to downtown Woodstock

“After their marriage, Mama and Papa built their home in Woodstock. Papa went into ‘store keeping’ and Mama began her life of raising eight children over a 20-year period. They built a house off Main Street in town. … The home that they had built had two bedrooms and was not more than a city block from downtown Woodstock. It...
Is Atlanta really a contender for Amazon HQ?
Is Atlanta really a contender for Amazon HQ?

If metro Atlanta wins Amazon’s second headquarters and its promise of 50,000 jobs, it likely will be on the strength of its workforce, globally connected airport, ease of doing business and the capacity of Georgia Tech and other research universities to pump out talent. But the Atlanta area will have to tangle with Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles...
Peace be with you, but no touching: Flu season alters mass in this state
Peace be with you, but no touching: Flu season alters mass in this state

Widespread influenza across Maine has prompted the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland to alter some traditions to keep parishioners healthy. The diocese announced Thursday that it's suspending the sharing of consecrated wine during communion and holding hands during the Lord's Prayer. The diocese is also discouraging parishioners from shaking hands...
More Stories